Smartphones and Chromebooks and iPads (oh my!) are commonplace and, for better or worse, they’re sliding more and more snugly into everyday life. Sometimes we’re told technology and screen time are beneficial, that they’re windows into new worlds. Other times we’re warned of the hidden dangers lurking online and that our devices will turn our children into couch potatoes. So, which version is the truth? Well, as it often does, it turns out there’s a bit of truth in both.
Let’s start with the cons
Health experts tend to agree that too much time with screens may interfere with crucial aspects of development in young children. The posture and repetitive motions associated with gazing into digital screens can take away from time spent moving around and refining gross motor skills. Additionally, time spent with a screen alone reduces opportunity to practice conversation and social skills. The main concerns are not that technology is rotting the brain, but that too much digital exposure takes time away from brain-building activities that develop little minds and muscles.
Now, what about the pros?
Kiddos growing up today are likely to have a lifestyle that requires some level of technology and screen mastery. Being familiar with how to navigate technological worlds can ignite curiosity and set children up for enriching, smart and safe digital lives. Because digital media and new technology tends to be highly engaging, you can use that as a golden opportunity for starting conversations and imaginative play with your little ones. In moderation, apps, games and videos can be fabulous educational tools!
The American Academy of Pediatrics has some pretty comprehensive guidelines for screen time. Because research is still ongoing on this topic, these recommendations err on the side of caution.
• Avoid digital media and screen time for children under 18 months old. This excludes time seeing and family members via video chatting.
• For children 18-24 months old, choose high quality media and make sure screen time involves a grown up participating in the experience. Screen time alone is not recommended.
• For children 2-5 years old, try limiting screen media to one hour per day.
• You don't need to jump into digital technology early with your child if you don't want to, as children tend to pick up quickly on modern technology quickly once they start using it at home or in school.
• Turn off televisions, apps, etc. when they're not in use.
• Most importantly, take an active role in the media your child consumes. Test out apps ahead of time, play together and talk about the experience with your child.
If you'd like to take a step toward meeting your media goals and paying close attention to the way your use technology in your home, try building a family media plan. A plan helps you think through all the ways media comes into your life and helps you think through what technology boundaries are important to you.
The Fun Stuff
Looking for some fun, safe suggestions for digital spaces that will benefit your kids? Try these.
Sesame Street - Made with kids’ developmental needs in mind, Sesame Street content is as educational as it is fun. They offer online games and activities, plus plenty quality apps.
PBS Kids - Another tried and true educational and fun favorite. They offer web content as well as free apps like PBS Kids Games and PBS Kids Video.
American Association of School Librarians - Check out this list for the latest and greatest apps with endless educational value. These apps are for a large range of ages, so you can find something for little ones, bigger ones and even teaching tools for homeschool or classrooms.
For those looking for fun away from screens, there are plenty of toys that introduce coding skills to young children like Codeapillar, Cubetto and Boxley. These can get pricy, so you can always get creative and play games with what you have around the house (or turn yourself into a robot that follows kid commands.) The library is a great place to get hands-on time with STEAM toys, so take a look at our program calendar or ask a staff member at your branch for information.
Whatever ways you use technology with your little ones, remember to be active and engaged with them. Ultimately, what matters isn’t the tools you use, but the bonds you form around them.